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How the U.S. Is Protesting Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws During the Olympics

By Chris Hoenig

To protest Russia's anti-gay laws, the U.S. is sending gay athletes to Sochi as part of its Olympic delegation.They’re not calling it a protest, but the United States’ disapproval of Russia’s anti-gay laws are equally clear both in who will and will not be representing the U.S. at the opening and closing ceremonies of February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The official U.S. Presidential delegations include three openly gay athletes—former tennis player Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and ice-hockey player Caitlin Cahow. King will attend the opening ceremony on Feb. 7 as part of a delegation led by former Attorney General/Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, while Cahow will attend the closing ceremony as part of a delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. This will be the first time since 2000 that a current or former President, Vice President or First Lady will not lead the nation’s representatives.

“I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people,” said King. Joining King and Napolitano, currently President of the University of California system, at the Feb. 7 opening ceremony will be U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, 1988 figure skating gold-medalist Boitano and Presidential Advisor Robert Nabors. Boitano also announced he’s gay for the first time publicly on Thursday.

Cahow and Burns will represent the U.S. at the Feb. 23 closing ceremony alongside five-time speedskating gold-medalist Bonnie Blair, five-time speedskating gold-medalist Dr. Eric Heiden and McFaul.

“An impressive group of officials and iconic athletes will represent our government at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. We’re honored to assist their participation in any way that we can and certain that America’s elite athletes will put on a great show,” the U.S. Olympic Committee said in a statement about the delegations. Neither the White House nor the USOC statements refer directly to Russia’s anti-gay laws or the sexual orientation of the delegates.

First Lady Michelle Obama led the U.S. Presidential delegation to the 2012 Olympics, while Vice President Joe Biden did so in 2010.

In October, the USOC extended its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation. In announcing the policy expansion, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun also expressed support for U.S. Olympians who have spoken out publicly against Russia’s laws. “We have told our athletes, your athletes, where we stand and we have given them the freedom to express themselves in the run-up to the Games however they see fit. I’d point to the comments made by Nick Symmonds and Bode Miller as good examples of that,” Blackmun said. “It is important for us to emphasize that we believe the law is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Olympic and Paralympic movements.”

Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws, enacted in June, ban gay-pride rallies and the sharing of information about the LGBT community with youths. There has been concern within national and international Olympic committees that the broad wording of the laws could make it a crime for athletes to wear pins or otherwise demonstrate their support for the LGBT community during the Games. Violating the laws carries thousands of dollars’ worth of fines.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes the Games will showcase a more modern Russia. More than $50 billion is being spent to host the Games, the most in Olympic history, but while the money is being spent on modern technology—the country has been storing snow for years to make sure all of the events can take place in Russia’s only subtropical region, where the average high temperature in February is 50 degrees Fahrenheit—many world leaders see the new anti-LGBT laws as archaic.

German President Joachim Gauck and French President Francois Hollande have already announced they are boycotting the Winter Games.

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